- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Voters in Maine opted Tuesday to join dozens of states that have expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare, delivering a high-profile endorsement of taxpayer-funded coverage even as President Trump tries to dismantle the 2010 health care law.

Supporters of the effort said it will make 70,000 Maine residents newly eligible for coverage under the federal-state program for the poor, while boosting economic development in the health sector.

The Associated Press called it for the “yes” camp shortly after 10 p.m., as incoming returns showed expansion enjoying a double-digit lead.

Voters flouted the will of Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who vetoed five legislative efforts to extend Medicaid benefits to more able-bodied people, arguing it would extend a costly new form of welfare to people who didn’t need it.

Many observers also saw it as a shot across Mr. Trump’s bow, as he doubles down on his pledge to unravel the Affordable Care Act.

“Tonight was the first voter referendum on a part of the Affordable Care Act — and voters voted in favor it, overwhelmingly,” said Brad Woodhouse, campaign director of Protect Our Care, a coalition fighting Obamacare repeal efforts.

Maine is set to join 31 states that already expanded Medicaid to those making up to 138 percent of poverty.

Many blue states expanded their programs under President Obama immediately, in 2014, though some GOP-led states followed in later years, tempted by federal matching funds that pick up nearly all of the costs of the new population — a share that will drop to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

Momentum for expansion had stalled out since then, as Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans looked to scrap Obamacare entirely.

Yet advocates in Maine were enthused by winds out of Washington, where Senate Democrats linked arms with three GOP defectors — including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — to sink the Obamacare repeal effort over the summer.

Mr. Trump says he will revive a bill to replace the program with state block grants next spring. Yet recent polls say most voters want to build on Obamacare instead of repealing it, complicating the effort.

In the meantime, the Trump administration is taking steps to reshape health care on its own.

Even as Maine voters hit the polls, the Trump administration scolded the previous administration Tuesday for using Obamacare to load able-bodied adults into Medicaid, saying it strained state budgets and failed to prioritize the truly needy.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said the administration will encourage states to use an existing waiver program to push capable Medicaid enrollees to find jobs.

Mr. LePage, whose administration worked to remove able-bodied adults from the Medicaid rolls in Maine, made similar arguments to voters in the run-up to Election Day, yet his lobbying fell short.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot question that would have required state agencies and state-assisted programs to buy prescription drugs at prices no higher than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays for them — typically 20 to 24 percent less than the usual price.

The pharmaceutical industry and other opponents said while it sounds nice to pay less, actually following through would be unwieldy, and could have unintended consequences, particularly

The VA negotiates additional discounts with drug providers that aren’t even disclosed, so opponents said it would be impossible to determine the benchmark price for each medicine.

They also said pegging prices to the VA would upend a complex web of supplemental discounts that companies negotiated with Ohio Medicaid and other state programs.

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